Thursday, September 16, 2004

ND Football 2004

Issue 3: MSU

MSU Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Michigan State is averaging 150 yards per game on the ground. That came against Rutgers and Central Michigan, but that's nothing to be laughed at. Last year, the Spartans put up numbers against ND that were very similar to the numbers they put up against the cupcakes they had played before that game. MSU appears to be employing a running back by committee system. Junior Tina Turner look-alike Jason Teague appears to be the man, but last week he shared the carries with freshman Jehuu Caulcrick. Teague is averaging 76 yards per game and Caulcrick 67, which, when put together, is something to pay attention to.
On the other side of the ball, the ND rush defense has been great. OK, so BYU doesn't run all that often, and Chris Perry's replacements in Michigan apparently suck, but 39.0 yards per game given up on the ground is almost as good as what I do at varsity level on NCAA 2005 with 5 minute quarters. The linebacking crew - the "chain gang" came up huge against Michigan. Brandon Hoyte (he loves his mamma) and Mike Goolsby should come up big, and Derrek Curry should have another decent game. The rotating pieces on the D-Line should play just well enough against the run, and I'll pick Trevor Laws to have another decent game.

ND Rush Offense vs. MSU Rush Defense

Darius Walker should be enough for the Irish, but I would like to see Travis Thomas again. Thomas is the unfortunate victim of the ND coaching staff's philosophy of not teaching people to protect the ball, then punishing them severly when they fumble. With MSU giving up 205 yards per game on the ground, I'd pick Walker to have a huge game, except for two things: 1) just because they don't need to pass at all, ND will probably pass too much. 2) this game is against MSU in East Lansing, which means it won't be easy.
As for Ryan Grant - you have to love the senior leadership, but the injury troubles from Don Bosco prep must have finally caught up to him. His legs right now are the football equivalent of a young pitcher's dead arm.

MSU Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

The QB controversy this year for MSU was supposed to be between Drew Stanton and Damon Dowdell. Stanton's had fluid on the knee all year, and Dowdell completed 56% of his passes for 270 yards against Rutgers, so of course the starter will be... redshirt freshman Stephen Reaves (no, that's not Jeff Smoker wearing #9 in his 12th year of eligibility), who completed 47% of his passes for 183 yards vs. Central Michigan. I don't get it. Michigan State's pass-friendly offense (231 ypg... so maybe it's not working too well) has spread the ball to 9 receivers so far. The main targets are Kyle Brown and Eric Knott, each with 60+ ypg. Matt Trannon is the #3 receiver, and Teague is averaging 24.5 yards per game receiving out of the backfield (which combines for 100 total ypg, so he's the guy to watch).
After facing two pass-happy teams, ND is giving up "only" 251.5 yards per game in the air. MSU's receivers have always given ND fits, and just because there's no Charles Rogers doesn't mean there won't be problems. Dwight Ellick and Preston Jackson will have to continue to play out of their minds and tackle well. Tom Zbikowski and the linebackers will have to help shut down the short passes. Quentin Burrell will have to do his best to defend the deep passes on the fast grass. If the defense is up for this game like they were last week (please tell me they will be), they can shut down this offense. But, as I said, this game is in East Lansing, so who knows.

ND Pass Offense vs. MSU Pass Defense

MSU is only giving up 167 passing yards per game. Of course, when you can pick up 205 rushing yards against a team in a game, you shouldn't need to go to the pass. The low passing totals on defense aren't due to a great pass rush (2 sacks) or interceptions (1), but Michigan State does do a good job of breaking up passes and batting down the ball. MSU has 11 "break ups" this year, while ND only has 6. Of course, MSU's opponents have 8 breakups, compared to 4 for ND opponents, so this could just be a case of how each team's official scorer interprets an official "pass broken up."
Once again, Notre Dame had better let their running game do the work. There's no reason why they shouldn't just ride Walker. If you're going to pass, pleas use the same parts of the playbook you used last week - no telegraphing your screens, and no jump-balls to Stovall. Maurice Stovall is a great weapon when used correctly. Rhema McKnight has been quiet so far this year (for example, you didn't hear him calling "fair catch!" when returning that one punt in the BYU game), and the ND tight ends were nowhere to be found in the passing game last week. Look for Bill Diedrick to expand the playbook a little to get his tight ends back in the game, and look for Rhema to have an "Arnaz Battle in 2002" kind of game. Also, let's see if we can get that Carlyle Holliday kid some work.

Special Teams

MSU's punt return team isn't all that impressive (6.9 yards per return), but in the kick return category, third string running back DeAndra Cobb is averaging a decent 24 yards per return. That average includes a 52-yarder. OK, on the other hand, that one 52 yard return does account for half his return yards over 4 returns. So, this is a guy to look out for, but if you play him right, you can shut him down. If that last paragraph made sense to anyone, please explain it to me, because I have no idea what I just wrote.
Notre Dame faces another great punter in Brandon Fields, who is averaging 50.3 yards per punt with a long of 62. Of course, he also has 4 touchbacks and a block, so there are ways to not let this guy beat you. As for a kicker, Dave Rayner is 1-3 on the year in field goals, but one of those misses was from 50+. Return coverage for the Spartans is so-so, giving up just over 25 yards per kick return, and close to 13 yards per punt return. So, the right guy can break one.
Nd is averaging almost exactly 20 yards per kick return and 10 per punt return. I still don't get the feeling that Chase Anastacio or Maurice Stovall can break one on a kick, but I really like Holliday on punt returns. He will break one at (or two or three) at some point this year. Stovall can run over DB's with his size, but sooner or later he'll run into someone bigger than him on the kickoff coverage team.
DJ (Ellen loves him) is averaging 40.6 yards per punt with a long of 56 and 4 inside the 20. He also has a 21-yard field goal. Carl Gioia doesn't have a booming leg on kickoffs, but I'm starting to see that Ty picked him for his ability to pin a kick returner in the corner. Sure, you'll have a few go out of bounds, but you'll also have more than a few returners who won't even make it to the 20.

Look for a big game from

The Chain Gang, the corners (they'll have their ups and down, but they'll make the big plays), Justin Tuck, Darius Walker, and Carlyle Holliday

ND 20, MSU 14 Walker, 2 by DJ, and the obligatory last-minute slant that turns into a 60-yard game winning TD by Rhema (or maybe Matt Shelton?)